KALAMAZOO, Mich. — Kalamazoo native Matthew Miller hopes an idea of his can be a catalyst for bringing people together despite their differences to help build a stronger, more cohesive community.
That idea is that by creating a community lyceum—a series of panel discussions and public conversations about art, history, philosophy, and public life—Miller will bring people together to transcend differences and reach the heart of humanity through shared experiences and commonalities. .
“In an age of toxic online controversy and shrinking social bonds, the Lyceum is a return to local community life,” Miller said. “It’s a chance to get into a room with people who live here to learn and talk about important ideas together over a drink and a meal. We hope to provide a better way to have conversations, to build friendship, to build community than we often find on social media.”
The first conversation centers around the question “How are modern media changing the way we think?” and will be led by two panelists; retired WMUK manager Gordon Bolar and former MLive reporter and current Kalamazoo Public Schools spokeswoman Linda Mach.
The event will be held from 2:00 pm to 4:00 pm on Saturday, Jan. 28, at the Kalamazoo Nonprofit Academy Coalition, located in the old First Baptist Church building at 315 W. Michigan Ave. in downtown Kalamazoo. Tickets for the event are $10 and can be purchased online in advance or at the door.
Miller, who is principal of the Kalamazoo Lyceum, said topics include how modern media has changed patterns of thought and behavior and how we should respond to the changes.
The event will be divided into two parts: a panel discussion and small groups to continue the discussion.
“The division and the challenge is rife in every community. And with social media and mainstream media, it’s often difficult for people to bridge differences,” Miller said. “Our things in common are becoming really hard to find.”
Lyceums date back to 1826, when a Connecticut farmer and teacher, Josiah Holbrook, established one with the idea of bringing together the best and brightest thinkers in small-town and rural lecture halls to exchange ideas.
Kalamazoo’s first high school was in 1837, Miller said. Over the years, the city hosted Ralph Waldo Emerson, Mark Twain, Horace Greeley and many others at Kalamazoo Lyceum. Residents debated topics such as the Ohio boundary line, women’s suffrage, and emancipation.
“The Lyceum is part of a long tradition of public education in our city,” Miller said. “It used to be a place where the people of Kalamazoo could come together, despite differences, to engage in lifelong learning and deep conversation about big ideas.”
It’s been more than 100 years since Kalamazoo’s last high school, Miller said. More lyceums are already in the works.
The second will be in March and will center around the question, “Do we have a culture in Kalamazoo?” It will look at everything from art to pop culture to food, and look at how it varies by neighborhood and background.
“I think the beauty is that culture can mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people,” Miller said. “By having this conversation, we hope … to be able to understand what culture means in our community and to be able to carry that into our lives.”
Miller said there are plans to host lyceums every other month in 2023, but depending on attendance and enthusiasm, there’s an opportunity to do it more often.
Miller, who was born and raised on the east side of Kalamazoo, attended The Citadel College in South Carolina. He remained in South Carolina for several years after graduation before stopping briefly in Dodge City, Kansas. He moved home to Kalamazoo a year ago and started working at Kalamazoo Integrated Services.
“I just love Kalamazoo, as bad as it sounds,” Miller said. “I think Kalamazoo has a really bright future. There are many people working in so many different fields. I think just being a part of that is really exciting.
“We are not here to agree to anything. We’re here to bring our collective perspectives together, to be able to share that and again, just have a good time and talk.”
The revival of high schools across the country began in early 2022 with a movement that started in Des Moines, Miller said. They are now held in more than half a dozen Midwestern cities, with Kalamazoo being the first city in Michigan to host them.
“It’s very obvious to see in the world how polarization affects people from the dinner table to the halls of Congress,” Miller said. “There is a) rift in our relationship, just because we haven’t been able to get together in the last few years.”
While hosting lyceums won’t be the final solution, Miller said, he believes it can definitely help.
There will be food and drink at the event, and everyone is welcome to attend, Miller said. For more information about the national movement, visit www.lyceummovement.org.
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